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Arguments begin in Montana voting restrictions trial

A voter drops off mail-in ballots at the Yellowstone County Court House June 2, 2020.
Nicky Ouellet
Yellowstone Public Radio/File photo
A voter drops off mail-in ballots at the Yellowstone County Court House June 2, 2020.

Four tribal governments and two Native American advocacy groups are suing the state over two new laws that restrict ballot collection practices and eliminate same-day voter registration.

The tribal governments named in the suit are the Blackfeet Nation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Fort Belknap Indian Community, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. Advocacy groups Western Native Voice and Montana Native Vote are also plaintiffs.

A third suit challenging a new law that restricts which IDs are acceptable at the polls was consolidated into the same trial that began Monday. That suit was filed by Montana Youth Action, Forward Montana Foundation and Montana Public Interest Research Group.

Plaintiffs say the laws make voting harder, especially for marginalized and younger populations.

The state’s Republican-majority Legislature championed the new laws as tools to secure the state’s election system following the 2020 election, which former President Donald Trump falsely said was stolen.

Daniel McCool is a voting rights expert and political science professor at the University of Utah. He testified that based on aggregate data and modeling, preventing third party organizations from collecting and dropping off ballots and eliminating same-day voter registration compounds barriers to voting for Native Americans.

“Native Americans have experienced dramatic losses of land, resources and freedom at the hands of us Anglos," McCool said.

The state’s defense counsel asked McCool if these laws actively stop people from voting. McCool said he doesn’t have that data.

The trial is scheduled to last two weeks. The state is expected to call witnesses in the coming days.

Copyright 2022 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.